CITY CALM DOWN This Modern Life

City Calm Down

Jack Bourke, lead singer of City Calm Down, is at home watching the news. Sounding much like your average Melbourne bloke, casually chatting away in a relaxed Aussie drawl, you wouldn’t guess this was the same brooding, intense frontman with a powerful baritone from a band that has quietly risen to being one of our greatest rock exports. With second album Echoes In Blue just released, and a national headline tour coming up in June, the band seem on the cusp of greatness. Bourke chats to ALFRED GORMAN about the difficult process of making the album, growing as a group and what it means to be Australian.

Echoes In Blue is not concerned with answering questions. It is interested in the reality of being spread too thin, being unable to shut out the noise, where we’re told to buy a house, with a mountain of debt, do what we love, be passionate and driven, whilst also making enough time for our partner, children, parents and friends. Has life has ever been more exciting or more artificial? Why are we so connected yet feel so alone?”

The band released this statement about the album, and this theme of the challenges of modern life comes across strongly on their sophomore album, and it’s a powerful and varied piece of work. This period of flux for the band will be an interesting evolution.

It’s been a big few years for Jack and co. Their impressive 2015 debut In A Restless House established them as a band with a songwriting maturity beyond their years, a unique live force scoring regular festival spots, and an international tour. Bourke also quit his job and got married last year, and now he prepares for the reception of this new album which is bound to continue their upper trajectory. He offers well considered answers, often pausing for moments, as he settles the thoughts running round his head.

Congrats on the new album, it must feel good to have it finally out. Obviously I’d heard the singles already released, but it’s interesting to hear them in the context of the album…

Yeah it’s finally out this week, which is really weird, because we finished it September. But we just kept putting it back a bit. It feels like it’s been a long way away for a long time.

You played some new stuff at your Laneway set earlier this year, but you’re coming over for your biggest ever headline tour in June…

Yeah, it will be really good to play the new songs live. Particularly some of the ones we’ve never played live before. We’re heading off to the UK first and then Germany and then back to Australia and New Zealand. So it’s gonna be a busy six weeks!

You released four tracks from the album prior, starting with Blood mid-way through last year – was that the order you’d written them in, or have you had most of the songs complete for a while?

When we released Blood we would have been 60-70% of the way through recording the album. It felt like when we were recording that it was coming together more than the others, like it was more complete. All the songs were pretty much written before we head into the studio, give or take a couple. We just thought that track had a really cool dynamic shift from the first verse into the chorus, and it excited as a bit. It was just good to have something out again too because it was 2015 when our last album had come out.

I can’t remember how many songs we wrote for this record. I think it was less than the last record. But there was a heap of junk we wrote for the last record. There were a lot of ideas but some that didn’t get across the line. I think this time, we were able to identify earlier in the process if a song was gonna cut it. There were maybe 20 ideas that we worked on some were really challenging to get right. The final track Echoes In Blue, from a rhythmic and arrangement perspective, took a long time to figure out. There was lots of back and forth on that one. Whereas Joan, I’m Disappearing was written very quickly. It felt very exciting when we wrote that. It just felt like it had a real sense of its own identity, which I think you really struggle and search for as a band – you wanna sound like yourself.

You are sounding more comfortable and confident as a band – like you’ve defined your own sound and style more with this album…

I think that’s been the most satisfying thing about finishing the record – it’s one of the only times I can recall I’ve been proud of something that I’ve worked on, and I think that’s unpinned by the fact that we’ve made a record that has its own identity. It’s only our second album, and I think we can continue to develop that identity… That’s an exciting prospect.

It’s a mature, cohesive album with nice variety. There’s some dark, synthy, rhythmic tracks people would expect, and some more melodic, accessible numbers like In This Modern Land and Kingdom, and some straight up rockers like Blood, and even a ballad in I Heard Nothing From You. Is that balance something you guys consciously worked to put together on the album?

It was. People were conscious of creating diversity in songwriting and the challenge was to weave those songs together so that they had come from the same sound palette. And yeah, I Hear Nothing From You stands in contrast to something like Blood in its outlook musically. The reason we put in on after Blood was to enhance that contrast between the songs whilst hopefully still making it feel like its part of the overall narrative and structure of the record. It’s a difficult one to balance ‘cause you don’t wanna repeat yourself over the record, but you don’t want to be schizophrenic in the musical ideas that you’re presenting. So yeah, I feel like we got there, but I’m always pretty equivocal about this kind of stuff. I mean, it’s a funny one, ‘cause I guess in a very broad sense we’re trying to write pop music, not Top 40 pop music, but with an element of accessibility in it for a wider audience.

So this album took about three years, what was the recording process like? You had a lot of other stuff going on too I believe – balancing a job, and also getting married…

We really enjoyed making the record, but it was very difficult for us, or the circumstances we were in were difficult. I think the thing that I was grappling with throughout was that desire to make music, constantly being tempered by this need to make a living, and I think that’s an ongoing conversation all musicians and artists have at some stage. So in some respects its about coming to terms with that, because I think everyone wants to derive meaning from whatever they spend their time doing.

While you’ve touring the world, do you feel like you’re part of a new movement within Australian rock, like with DMAs and Gang of Youths, that is starting to really take it to the world?

It’s a funny one, because I think deep down there is something inescapably Australian about the music. Though on a superficial level it might not be like that. I mean, I don’t sing with a particularly heavy Australian accent. I don’t know if it’s really noticeable or not. Though there are obviously artists who are leading that charge in a very proudly Australian way. Courtney Barnett comes to mind. I mean, it’s incredible what she’s doing.

There does seem to be a new wave of Aussie bands, following Courtney Barnett, that are really emphasising the accent. And it’s funny talking with you, because your accent is very noticeable, but when you sing, not so much?

I feel like if I was gonna sing like “Ahhh g’day mate!”, why would I sing like that? Because I don’t speak like that. I do have an accent, but it kinda gets lost somehow in the way the singing happens. I do have some demos where the accent is more obvious. I guess with a lot of those artists, the way they sing is just the way they intuitively sing… well at least I hope it is.

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